So, What’s It Really Like?

Dr. X | Dr. X

The common perception is that Dr X and the nurses sit around and relax most of the time. So what’s it like? I’ve heard many a time. I mean on the boat. Do you just sit in the Medical Center and relax? Flirt with the nurses?

There are indeed some slow times; particularly toward the end of a cruise. But the first few days are filled with meetings; I’d say at least 20, about safety, protocols and drills for emergencies of various types like guest down, first aid, crowd control.

And they’re all important, including the various signals the captain sends using the onboard speakers. There are signals for fire, man overboard, chemical spills, and abandon ship. Each potential onboard emergency is drilled, over and over again. The seaman’s secret for safety is repetition…

There’s a fist inside me, squeezing my heart. I’m running on a foot wide gangplank, breathing hard. I’m on the port, left, side of the boat running forward. There’s a safety rail, only about 24 inches high, to the left of me. There is nothing to stop me from falling the 155 feet into the open ocean.

To my right is the skin of the boat bouncing against my arm, trying to nudge me over the safety rail. Mae and I had accessed the narrow walkway by first crawling through a small port next to the Spa on deck 11. Then Mae told me we had to climb over a rickety, flimsy twenty four inch high metal gate, and get to the crew platform 150 yards further, on this so-called “safety plank.” My legs ache, begging me to stop. Just a few more feet to the crew platform.

I look ahead of me. About 50 feet from me is Mae, our resident Cyndi Lauper impersonator. She’s carrying a Life Pack kit, weighed down by its 30 pounds, and she’s running a lot faster than I am. Not breaking stride, she turns sometimes, waving for me to go faster.

On the crew platform, ahead of us, are three deckhands with bright yellow vests and safety helmets. They are operating a 15 foot crane, having lowered a rescue boat, then launching it to sea; this time to rescue Oscar, the Dummy. Oscar is a life sized mannequin, who falls off the boat all the time. The crew are all focused aft, watching the rescue, listening to their Walkie-Talkies, ready to lift the launch back on board, with Oscar rescued.

The wind is at least 30 knots, buffeting me, pushing and pulling.“Long way down, Doc,” one of the crew says, smiling and thinking, I suppose, I hadn’t noticed. I have a debilitating fear of heights; ever since I had a bad fall from a ladder, climaxed with a bumpy tumble down two flights of stairs.

Something occurred to me: “Mae, are they going to bring Oscar up here? To deck 11?”

“Of course.” She seemed annoyed at my asking what to her was obvious. “We have to get him onboard so you can check him. You know, his airway, do his airway and all the primary interventions. All that stuff.” Then she sang the first few bars of Little Boy Blue.

“I was just wondering though, Mae.”

“What, Doc?”

“The stretcher team, the port stretcher team. Wouldn’t we need them to transport the victim back to Deck 0 and the medical center?”

“Of course.” Mae seemed bothered by me again.

“So where are they? Where’s the port stretcher team?”

“Oh we don’t have them do the drills. It’s too dangerous. We’re 150 feet above the surface! Any fall would be fatal.” Not batting an eye, she turned away to watch for Oscar, who mysteriously was nowhere to be found.

Fatal, I heard. Time to wake up, Dr. X. But I can’t. I already am awake and had been the whole time. It isn’t a dream at all.

And Oscar? We waited, and waited. No Oscar. Then from the bridge via Walkie-Talkie, “Oscar safely on board.” We contacted the bridge and told them we hadn’t seen Oscar. Turns out somebody, still unknown who, had decided to bring Oscar aboard from starboard without telling us, the rescue medical team.

That’s why we drill. Taking Oscar back to his place in the Medical Center we had to pass through a couple of guest areas. Two women screamed when they saw him. They really thought he was a dead victim. One woman almost fainted.

Annoyed, Mae muttered, “We need to cover Oscar so nobody sees him. This happens all the time.”

This episode really happened. After it, I never trusted Mae with my life again.

About the Author:

Come aboard as Dr X's Private Sea Journal reveals with great story telling and wit the practice of medicine on the high seas including some of the deep dark secrets of maritime medicine, as well as Dr X.

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